Saturday, 26 May 2012

Days 27 & 28: Shenandoah, Skyline & Blue Ridge

The airplane pictures are coming, I promise.

We left Washington and started one of the most leisurely drives in the US: Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Both are run by the National Park Service. Combined, they are 560 miles long. Max speed on Skyline is 35 mph (60 km/hr); on the Blue Ridge, 45 mph (70 km/hr). Access to each is very controlled, and although you are in some cases driving through suburbs of major cities (ie; Roanoke), there's only one way on and off. These are not fast routes.

But they are pretty and scenic. The road undulates along the top of one of the Appalachian Mountains, at elevations normally about 2,500', but as high as 4,000' and as low as 650'. In most places, they ride the top of the ridge, or swing from one side to the other, offering incredible vistas of the Shenandoah valley below to the west, and other valleys to the east.

Skyline Drive is the north end, and starts at Front Royal, Virginia. It runs the length of Shenandoah National Park, and has overlooks every mile or so for the whole 105 mile length. Here's the views from some of them.
Looking west 
Looking south. Note the cloud pouring over the ridge 
Looking north 
Looking at that cloud pouring over the ridge from up close 
West valleys
Clouds build and threaten
The puffy clouds got puffier as the day progressed, but only once did we get a very brief misting of rain from a cloud.

While everything is lush and green, there are very few creeks or waterfalls, as you are literally on the top of the ridge. There are a few tunnels, however. Karen likes tunnels.
Hangin' out the window
We got out of the car to do a few short hikes. Some are just to a little better overlooks, or some rocky outcrops.
Up close and personal with clouds 
Farms in the valley below 
Rock outcrops
One hike we did was a kick. 360° views here are rare, as are mountains with rocky treeless summits. We hiked to one. Or more precisely, we scrambled to one.
A deer greets us at the start 
I scramble up a section
Karen tackles a section 
On the summit
There are trails everywhere, and I wish we could have taken a day or two here to do more hiking. We did do a short walk on a portion of the Appalachian Trail, which runs 2,184 miles (3,515 km) from Georgia to Maine. On it, we ran into two girls who are walking the whole thing non stop. They started March 1 in Georgia and were about 5 days from the halfway point. They expected to finish in mid-August. I expect they need psychotherapy now.

As the afternoon light started to highlight how humid it was, the mountains started to take on the famous smoky look.
Misty mountains that aren't misty
We overnighted in the south end of Shenandoah at a campground, where about half the sites of the packed campground were sporting flags or other decorations in honour of Memorial Day weekend.

This morning, we continued down the rest of Skyline Drive with more overlooks...
To the east
There's a lake down there!
and joined the Blue Ridge Parkway. No sooner had we done so than we met some vintage cars, all from the 1920's & 30's. Note: the roads were built in the 1930's, designed for cars like these.
1926 Ford in front
The Blue Ridge Parkway is faster and the overlooks and hikes are much fewer and farther between.
Looking northwest
Late in the afternoon, southern Virginia
But we found one place that was really nice, featuring both a waterfall...
The lower cascades
...and an old logging railway line.
Only about 200' of track has been rebuilt
The Parkway is know for its rhododendrons, some of which were still in bloom.
White ones
The lowest point of the Parkway, 670' ASL, is where it crosses the James River (which runs into Chesapeake Bay down at Jamestown, where we were last week).
Looking downstream
The crossing
There used to be canals along this river to barge good up and down. Not much is left of them any more.
A lock going nowhere
We made it 260 miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway today. While interesting and pleasant, it's nowhere near as picturesque as the Skyline Road and Shenandoah National Park. And it's really popular with packs of old fogies on their very noisy Harley Davidsons.

Tomorrow, we do the final 200 miles and get to our "last" stop of the trip, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we are camping for several nights. From there we head home, and after we get out of the park, I'll be able to get back on line again. Stay tuned, and I should be back posting on May 30th after we start home.

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